Why the Sierra Club Broke Tradition to Protest the Keystone Pipeline

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In an act of civil disobedience against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from the tar sands of Canada to refineries in Texas, 48 protesters were arrested Wednesday for blocking the sidewalk in front of the White House. Among those arrested were the actress Daryl Hannah, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his son, Conor Kennedy, civil rights leader Julian Bond, environmentalist Bill McKibben, and Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, whose participation marked the end of the organization’s 120-year prohibition against civil disobedience. At the protest, we spoke with Brune to find out why the pipeline pushed the group to break this long-standing tradition.

“This particular project — Keystone XL pipeline — is so horrendous, it’s so wrong, and it’s being proposed at such an important time that we don’t want to leave any tool on the table,” Brune told us shortly before his arrest, saying that the pipeline would “guarantee that we’re locked into the most carbon-intensive fuel source on the planet for the next half-century.”

Brune also explains the significance of the pipeline in this recent post on TomDispatch, as well as on his own Sierra Club blog post about the protest. A major rally for climate action, organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org and the Hip Hop Caucus, is planned for this Sunday at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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  • Bob

    Thanks for the great journalism here. Strong report.

  • Janet

    Well done, all! I hope our Congressmen and women, Senators and President and White House staff were watching and will take a much closer look at the environmental disaster this pipeling will be.
    Jobs? Fix the bridges and roads!

  • Midas

    We can kill the entire petroleum system with one product. I found it via a friends Facebook post and after some serious googleing and fact-checking on the science involved, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is it. From what I understand, it is already approved by the Feds for use in all internal combustion engines, not just cars, but planes, trains, and boats. Here’s what did it for me: it’s made from trash. Yep. Trash…well…the carbons that the trash is composed of that is..we throw this stuff away and here is a product that uses that to make a fuel that REPLACES petroleum in virtually every transportation class that you could imagine..and when mixed with coal slurry for electrical generation, it increases combustion efficiency by a significant amount. Oh, and grab the stuff coming out of the smokestack and make more. Wow. People that understand the carbon cycle understand what this means. Up until now, it’s all about carbon generation and sequestration, with the vast majority of the carbons generated ending up in our atmosphere. What this product means is that the carbon cycle is completed. We use it, then use it again, with less and less carbons making their way into the atmosphere. Wow. oh..all this and I never mentioned what it’s name is. Envirolene. After a few side trips on my search I, ended up here: http://www.biorootenergy.com It had all the other facts and stuff I found in one place. Worth some investing time, and maybe some money.

  • cynthia rucrst

    NO MORE Pipeline madness!!

  • Anonymous

    Better late than never. Maybe this will encourage Greenpeace to grow a pair and emulate Sea Shepherd.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nirmala.pandan Nirmala Pandan

    People are waking up. All could unite including corporations and solve this problem. The alternative is that there will be nobody left to enjoy this.

  • MLK and FDR are needed NOW!

    Obama, in his recent inaugural and state of the union addresses, waxed lyrical about fighting global warming — but his actions are NEVER as good as his pretty little words.

    He also said in the last few days that “we need a technological breakthrough” to effectively fight global warming. Obama drives me crazy in so many ways, but these complacent words (and his 4 years of inaction) are some of Obama’s worst crimes against humanity! WE DON’T HAVE TIME to wait for technological breakthroughs! And such lame talk by Obama just shows how passive (and I think, how deceitful) Obama is about doing ALL we can RIGHT NOW!!! We can and should impose high carbon taxes (and much higher corporate taxes), activate pervasive solar panels, wind turbines, mass transit, and cleaner cars, etc. nationwide NOW — in a “fight for our lives” 20-year+ “World War Two” level of effort. But tragically, Obama is NOT the bold and visionary activist and leader that humanity and history urgently need at this vitally crucial time. And if Obama goes ahead with his “all of the above” nonsense that includes the XL pipeline of tar-sands sludge, increased mountain-top blasting for coal, ocean-and-arctic drilling for oil, and community-fracturing for natural gas — his misleading words, destructive actions, and inexcusable inactions will make Obama the most resented U.S. president for all future generations.

    Today’s article at Common Dreams about the higher release of methane gas from the melting permafrost (and the much faster global warming that will result) is truly terrifying. So Obama and other world “leaders” — and we common people — DON’T HAVE TIME to wait for “technological breakthroughs.” We need to do ALL we can do now, with all of the technological resources (and political-moral WILL) we have RIGHT NOW!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Albert-Lopez/1824418031 Albert Lopez

    ..President Obama is just one man.We have to help him..E-mail your Senators/Congressman..& tell them we don’t Want this Pipeline. They are Destroying OUR PLANET TO FILL THEIR POCKETS !!!!

  • Sunlover

    No breakthroughs are needed, as Amory Lovins, Chief Scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, recently explained in the Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amory-lovins/climate-change-no-breakth_b_2654248.html

    Let’s all get behind the Boxer-Sanders legislation that was just proposed. We need to tax carbon now, and let our legislators know how we feel.

  • Anonymous

    Oil companies will kill anyone and anything to get their profit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TrudyLookinglass Lance Link


  • concerned

    Crooked koch brothers… why build a pipeline to bring a oil to Texas, when oil was discovered in Texas…hmmmmmm

  • Keith

    All you protesters put some money where your mouths are and start some green energy businesses and put some people to work!!!!!!

  • MLK and FDR are needed NOW!

    Thanks, Sunlover, for your comment and link that confirm that Obama’s claim that “we need a technological breakthrough” to effectively fight global warming is not true.

    To all readers here, I’d like to say that when I wrote “some of Obama’s worst crimes against humanity,” I don’t think I was overstating the facts. For aren’t these actions and inactions by Obama crimes against humanity?

    1) Failing to consistently and effectively lead the fight against global warming (both in the U.S. and worldwide) — and in fact, ordering U.S. representatives at every global conference on global warming to obstruct and sabotage binding agreements to fight global warming.

    2) Actively promoting dirty fuels (“clean coal,” oil, natural gas, nuclear power) that will make global warming worse — and failing to promote non-carbon, clean energy as quickly and as completely as he could and as we urgently need to do.

    3) By his many actions and inactions on global warming for the past four years, making it more likely (not less likely) that millions (or even billions) of innocent people worldwide will suffer and die from the results of global warming in the next 100 to 200 years alone (from shortages of water and food, killer storms, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, heat waves, droughts, wildfires, wars, forced migrations, rising oceans that submerge islands and coasts, acidic oceans and loss of sea life, and on and on).

    4) Killing hundreds of innocent children, youths, women, and men (even at weddings and funerals!) with his very active program of bombings by drone, with his secret “black ops” military strikes in about 70 countries, and with his 4 years+ of continuing or expanding 5 wars (in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia).

    5) By his many actions that are making the U.S. even more of an authoritarian, militarized, police-and-spy-state that passes laws that make it “legal” for Obama and future presidents (and countless other federal and state officials) to violate the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Convention and other international laws, and many centuries of legal protections for common people against the elite few who have excessive powers. By reducing the legal rights and protections of both Americans and non-Americans, Obama is making it more likely (not less likely) that many innocent people will suffer and die in the decades and centuries to come.

    This is just a partial list. Are these “crimes against humanity” or not?

  • http://www.facebook.com/janet.reynolds.94009 Janet Reynolds

    wow! I am so impressed. If only Washington had the courage to stand up to Corporate America like the Koch Brothers.

  • Debra

    I believe there must be millions of us, living very close to the edge of poverty and who cannot afford to make the trip to DC, who would support and take these walks alongside the Sierra Club, if we only could. May our voices be heard. Let us write letters constantly, call the offices of our Leaders constantly, and never let up, until we are heard and this pipeline permanently stopped.

  • http://www.facebook.com/carol.joy.54 Carol Joy

    It was Obama’s darn State Dept under Hillary Clinton that originally asked for the Pipeline to go through. They only decided to oppose it once it became apparent that there are enough Republicans in Congress to blame it on. And Obama could see to it that there aren’t these arrests couldn’t he? Or is he too busy playing golf?

  • Singingway

    There was a window of opportunity when governments and business could be the leading change-makers on this issue, but now the change will come (and IS coming) from a worldwide network of people, for the human institutions to follow.

  • Mike

    I will soon be turning 66 years old. For the first time, I’m very concerned about our country. Will we survive with the current state of government? Too much greed by all. I wonder if the “Greatest Generation feels this is the country they fought for?

  • Cindy Malzan

    We participated in the “Forward on Climate” rally in DC on Feb 17, 2013. Thirty five thousand to 50,000 of us. All demonstrating to push President to oppose the Keystone Pipeline , oppose fracking and, instead invest in renewable energies. You think anyone will lisiten. Recent polls show that only 30% of American think the climate needs attention! Personally, I can’t believe that and I question the reliabilty and validity of the polls. BTW – call and write your congressman, senators, but don’t rely only on email. They are inundated with emails and the emails are no longer even counted. At least, that is what I am told.

  • Rationalist

    When all of you want to put your actions where your words are:


    Sell your car, stop paying your utility bill, toss all plastics, you get teh picture…Anything short of that is just waiting for someone else to make the sacrifice for you.

  • Rationalist

    why do we need bridges and roads if we can’t get the fuel to drive our cars…?

  • Dave Morgan

    You know that old saying…”dumb as a post?” We’ll there is now an upgrade version…
    “Dumb as oil.”

  • http://www.MajorityRules.org/blog Steve Zemke MajorityRulesBlog

    The oil from the Keystone pipeline is not going to fuel our cars. It will be exported to other countries.

  • mojacar

    Obama is as bad as bush , this new war they re starting in Syria benefits many of the same interests as these oil deals

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.campoccio Susan Campoccio

    I hate to say this but: could it be that all this is part of the thrust of certain powers to make Mexico, U.S. and Canada one entity, controlled by corporations? I understand China is buying up property here like mad…….Whom does our president work for, do you think? I am concerned, and want to know..

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.elgee.5 Pat Elgee

    Get Obama’s word that if we give him enough democratic seats, he will take care of it.